“I’m sorry. I’m very, very sorry,” said Geraldo Jose Vargas-Munoz, the local head of last year’s summer season narcotics-dealing operation in Montauk, moments before being sentenced on May 21 to 11 years in state prison after pleading guilty to one of the most serious laws governing narcotics trafficking on the books: running a major drug-dealing operation. He concluded his short statement, which was passed on to the court by a translator, by saying, “I never . . .” The few words that followed were inaudible.
Vargas-Munoz, 38 — known as Celo to friends and fellow travelers in the Rincon, Puerto Rico-based Montauk drug-dealing operation — is the next-to-last major player in the 2018 “Montauk 17” drug-dealing ring to be sentenced. The 17 were swept up in an early morning August 2018 raid conducted by the East Hampton Town Police, along with multiple agencies, including the district attorney’s office, the East End Drug Task Force, and federal agencies. The only one left to be sentenced is Elvin Silva-Ruiz, whose street name in Montauk was Pito. He will be sentenced June 13.
Vargas-Munoz’s attorney, Andrew Heffernan, painted his client, who was facing a total of 20 felony charges and 25 years to life in state prison if he was convicted as charged, as the top fall guy in the operation.
“He is a good man who has made a terrible mistake,” he told State Supreme Court Justice Timothy Mazzei in his courtroom in Riverside. He told the court that his client came from Puerto Rico, “not to sell narcotics, but to work in Montauk as a chef.” Heffernan said that Vargas-Munoz was employed as a chef for several years at various restaurants before becoming involved in the drug-dealing operation. That only happened, Heffernan said, “due to the influences of several people back home in Puerto Rico.”
He said that Vargas-Munoz never personally profited from the operation: “He rented a room, drove a beat-up car, and had minimal cash in his bank accounts when this investigation came to an end.”
Over $25,000 in cash was seized from Vargas-Munoz after his arrest.
Will Nash, the prosecuting attorney on all of the felony cases that arose from the arrest of the Montauk 17, said that the District Attorney Tim Sini’s office was able to project a profit from narcotics sales of over $150,000 over the course of a year to the Rincon-based operation, easily qualifying the defendant for the law known as the “drug kingpin statute.”
Heffernan said afterward that Vargas-Munoz was chosen by the Rincon drug lords because, out of all those who came to Montauk for the 2018 season to work in the kitchens and bars that comprise the Montauk night scene, “He was the most trustworthy.”
Nash said that Vargas-Munoz is required to serve six-sevenths of the 11-year sentence. Even given the credit toward the time he has accrued since being behind bars since last August, Vargas-Munoz is still looking at more than nine years in prison before he is eligible for release.